Incitement to Self-Defense

By Michel Bounan

Chapter I

A book that I published in 1990, entitled Le Temps du sida [The Time of AIDS], exposed how the new epidemic of AIDS, through the factors that favored its diffusion, was the most complete and most terrifying product of the social conditions issued from commodity logic. It also showed that the current scientific explications, with respect to AIDS or anything else, reveal an ideology that is itself tied to commodity logic. Thus, the same commodity reason engendered, here as elsewhere, both the totality of the disaster and the ensemble of the dominant ideas concerning it. The Time of AIDS finally concluded that no individual treatment could impede the march of this immuno-depression epidemic (whatever the name that one will want to give it in the future), which could only be done by suppressing the conditions that produced it and that it in turn precipitated.

The logic of the commodity in its socio-economic and ideological aspects, thus, in its disastrous developments, was critiqued in the last century by Marx, who named it capital in its general form. Subsequently, the situationists described the recent mutations -- required by the surpassing of its initial contradictions -- and they, in their turn, denounced its modern form of spectacle. The Time of AIDS, in sum, only resumed the critique that had been developed for 150 years on the occasion of the completely new collective and private suffering that took the unexpected form of an epidemic.

In its time, situationist critique had as its principal enemies the so-called official inheritors of Marxist critique. Situationist critique exposed their motivations and procedures. Likewise, the most remarkable reactions to The Time of AIDS has come from people who once referred to, or claimed to refer to, situationist critique.

Several days after the publication of this book, the former situationist Michele Bernstein, become a journalist for Liberation, published in it a rather confused but incontestably praiseful article (Liberation, 4 October 1990).

Michel Bounan seeks his references far and wide, in the fall of preceding civilizations (Roman and feudal), in the myopia of the Hegelian system. He speaks of the symbolism of the dreams "that outlive all the psychoanalysts," our family structures, the wine that is a living but frightening god. . . . At the end of his book, he even gives practical and homeopathic advice to those whose defenses only get weaker (...) This author, who puts his supports down upon Lautreamont, Dada and the situationists, is obviously my family (when he speaks of the manner in which Reich was buried, he is properly Swiftian!). But no, one is not deveived, it is obvious that this work isn't simply seductive, but important as well. Then, another practical piece of advice: Editions Allia not being one of the pachyderms of printed merchandise, The Time of AIDS will not be piled in the shop windows of all the bookstores. If it isn't there, go elsewhere or order it.

This article was all the more remarkable and remarked because it was the only one published about this book by a major French newspaper.

After the publication of her article, Michele Bernstein was alerted by a colleague at her newspaper and vigorously reprimanded for having made an apology for a "homophobic" and "charlatanesque" work. This judgment was immediately co-signed by another former situationist, Donald Nicholson-Smith, then employed by the English publishing house Verso Books.[1]

The director of Verso Books, Malcolm Imrie, had previously translated and published Guy Debord's Comments on the Society of the Spectacle[2] and, upon the advice of the author, had envisioned a translation of The Time of AIDS. Nicholson-Smith was tasked with writing a reader's report. His objections were important and his critique was severe:[3]

The book certainly has the merit of placing the question of AIDS in the broadest possible critical context -- precisely the context from which it is systematically removed (...) But he denies science any neutrality at all, where it might have made more sense to ask just how science is distorted, and by which specific social forces, away from a real comprehension of issues like AIDS. For all his Marxo-situationist baggage, Bounan evacuates class struggle as the "motor of history," and replaces it with a quasi-mystical deus ex machina called the "living subject" (and deus indeed -- because this entity is also known as "the living God") (...) At another level, that of individual remedies in the present circumstances, Dr. Bounan's promotion of silica administered to AIDS patients in a homeopathic manner fails to convince: at best, one feels, this is a worthwhile avenue, but very minor; at worst, we are listening to the patter of a snake-oil merchant. It must be added that a barely concealed homophobia does little to strengthen Bounan's case.

Malcolm Imrie then made known to Editions Allia what he called his "own opinion," which exactly confirmed that of Nicholson-Smith:[4]

Bounan places the question of Aids [sic] in the broadest possible critical context (precisely the context from which it is systematically removed by dominant ideologies). His arguments for the existence of pathological factors in our 'civilization' which -- rather than a 'virus' -- are responsible for Aids [sic] and many other diseases, are eloquent, erudite and persuasive. His general critique of 'marionettism' is impressive. But we found his notion of the 'living subject' as the only motor of history somewhat mystical. His accounts of the homeopathic uses of silica were rather unconvincing. And there is sometimes a barely-concealed homophobia in the book which we found distasteful.

Thus, a work of which Debord had wanted the diffusion and which was, beyond several generalities, sometimes interesting but often banal, was especially remarkable for these three points:

1) Substitution for the "class struggle" by a species of mystical ideology.

2) Promotion of a charlatan's remedy for AIDS.

3) Obvious homophobia.

None of this had appeared to the former situationist Michele Bernstein. One imagines she was perplexed and perhaps concerned about it.

Several weeks after the English discovery, the French journal Mordicus in its turn published its own opinion under the signature of Serge Quadruppani,[5] editor of this journal and described -- mendaciously -- as a "former situationist" (and even "irreducible situationist author") in the advertising pages of the Nouvel Observateur (1 July 1993).

After a rather cretinous blast of kepi ("a brilliant synthesis of life and illness . . . it is very good"!), but nevertheless venomous ("one feels the presence of Vaneigem on each page"), this professional warned the readers of Mordicus at great length about what "jammed" in this "rather suspicious" book. No allusions this time to the Motor of History, the class struggle, the living subject or other nonsense. All this was apparently of no concern to the readers of Mordicus, who would be uselessly troubled by the idea that there could exist some kind of relation between this nonsense and AIDS. Nevertheless, this journalist picked up upon, and even several times, a "condemnation of sexual perversions," the moralizing character of which was attested to by the concomitant "praise" of the bourgeois family. And he especially found it "truly unsupportable" that the author claimed to recommend to AIDS patients "an old wives' remedy" instead of A.Z.T.

This exemplary report on The Time of AIDS, centered upon the homophobia of the author and the charlatanesque character of his wild imaginings, served as a model for other, more confidential treatises, distributed within certain inner circles. A typed-up and anonymous text, for example, circulated in a group that was part of the Stop-Nogent Committee.[6] One learned in it what was suitable to know about The Time of AIDS.

The author, a certain Bounan, indulges in an exercise of pro-situ style in which, with great scholarly erudition and illuminist references, he presents his vision of the world, a kind of undigested mystical situationism. This moral father [pere-la-pudeur] sings the praises of the traditional family in a style that would not be disavowed by the Church Fathers, condemns homosexuality as a form of slavery, and proposes to take care of the illnesses of AIDS with homeopathic dilutions of silica (sand) in water. The work, which is of rare pretense and full of scorn for the sick (puppets), was nevertheless greeted seriously in the pro-situ milieu as a "disturbing book." Furthermore, this imbecile, making very just but quite banal critiques of medicine, obviously denounces a conspiracy. . . . One lies about the nature of AIDS! Which is not caused by a virus, but by the "degradation of the modern conditions of existence," nothing less. . . . Of course, this lie was hidden from the good people by the physicians of "official science" and the coalition of all the powers. . . . Our good apostle offers to take care of the sick on the conditions of submitting to ideological edicts and renouncing the horrible "official medicine."[7]

With its three major themes (mysticism, charlatanism, homophobia), the excellent work of Nicholson-Smith thus found itself here, this time well-seasoned:

1) Mysticism, illuminism, Church Fathers;

2) Offering to take care of the sick, whom the author scorns, with sand;

3) Homophobia, the moral father, apostle of the traditional family.

Moreover, to those who had already heard that The Time of AIDS treated something completely different, one made assurances that it was a question of super well-known and quite banal critiques. Finally, one wanted to inspire laughter by evoking something that is hidden from the public, a kind of conspiracy against it.

Quadruppani's text was also quite simply translated and reproduced in the foreign press without indication of its origin. Thus, after the distribution in Italy of a translation of The Time of AIDS by Paola Balzola, the journal Anarchismo published a translation of the Quadruppani in extenso as if it had emanated from the editorial board of this journal and expressed "its own opinion."

Michele Bernstein thus had more and more reasons to regret her apologetic remarks. She could nevertheless console herself about her initial wandering by observing that Guy Debord, a habitually attentive reader and sensitive to what was denounced here, was also not struck by the "mysticism" of the book, nor by "the evacuation of the class struggle," nor apparently by the "homophobia" or "charlatanism" that others had discovered in it, since he encouraged his English publisher to translate and distribute it. Moreover, he had written to its author: "I can assure you that I find myself in very great sympathy with the bases of your thought and, obviously, your socio-historical critique."

And he commented upon the refusal of Editions Gerard Lebovici[8] to publish the book six months previously: "To refuse your manuscript is not a good sign for a publishing house. Or for the century?"

Several months later, the volte-face of the publisher Malcolm Imrie, founded on Nicholson-Smith's reader's report, inspired Debord to make several remarks:

The extraordinary tone ("passionate-insincere") of this pseudo-pederast is quite instructive; since he wants precisely to reproduce the cynical appearance of the reasoning of spectacular power, as well as its worthless psychology. This person is no doubt paid by the network of disinformation that specializes in the treatment of advanced critique. I will take note of it. It is certainly elsewhere that one will hear "the song of the sailors."

And, later on:

All of what you cite proves the conspiracy, quite foreseeable in the existing situation, against The Time of AIDS; and that Nicholson-Smith participates in it. The machine that today codes the degree of democratic permission for access to a book, if one presumes the interest of it to be too strong, disguises its true reasons behind the supposedly individual caprices of the members of the ad hoc network; and it will prefer to justify such pseudo-caprices by the hypocritical appearance of an indignant neo-moralism that simulates the current sheep of the intelligentsia; they only know three inadmissible crimes, at the exclusion of all the rest: racism, anti-modernism and homophobia. You must remember that it was already this extraordinary accusation of homophobia against this very book that brought me my first suspicion concerning Imrie's honesty. I have not met with him since then, but I have found enough other good reasons in our correspondence to become angry. I have refused him Le Spectacle after he increased the pressure to take from me in great haste the worldwide English-language rights (and with what intention?)[9]

Thus, in this affair as in others, Guy Debord -- about whom many still wondered what his trade was -- maintained an unsupportable position, faced with an ensemble that was nevertheless composed of real or fantastical former situationists. It is true that to his status as founder of the Situationist International he excessively added that of gravedigger for this moment that was both real and fantastical, for some of its members, too.


The preceding reactions to The Time of AIDS, their content, their resemblances and especially their origins incited me to publish a short text, The Crafty State, intended as a preface to the work by Maurice Joly, Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu.

Joly's pamphlet, which was banned and seized by the French police in 1865, exposed -- among other things -- how a modern state had the means to falsify the social critique of an era so as to place it at its service. Subsequently, this work was falsified by the Russian police at the beginning of the [20th] century and transformed into an anti-Semitic pamphlet, The Protocols of the Elder of Zion, so as to divert the dangerous social agitation of the time towards racist riots.

The preface thus showed how Maurice Joly was the victim of the procedure that it had denounced for the first time; and more precisely what mediatico-police maneuvers were thenceforth used by the modern States in the current social war so as to divert, isolate, manipulate and falsify all new critique that today emerges in less and less avoidable conditions.

This time the journalist Michele Bernstein let the publisher at Editions Allia know that this text appeared to her to be frankly uninteresting and inopportune. [According to her] particularly weak and improper was the argument according to which "the Dialogue in Hell was not recently retrieved from oblivion so as to show the falsity of the Protocols, but, on the contrary, it was the mediatico-police operation of the Protocols that proved the truth of Maurice Joly."

To this severe judgment, Guy Debord brought several nuances:

You have written the preface that Joly merits, and exactly as the experience of this century has demonstrated (...) The strongest and precisely the most modern argument that you have advanced is this one: "The Dialogue in Hell has not been recently retrieved from oblivion to demonstrate the falsity of the Protocols . . . on the contrary, it is the mediatico-police operation of the Protocols that proved the truth of Maurice Joly."

Some time after the publication of The Time of AIDS, I tried to enlarge the subject in a new book that was announced by a text in the form of a test: Are you a man of your times?

The form of this text caricatured the modern journalistic procedure intended to authoritarianly pass on mendacious news in an illusorily democratic form. In addition, it provided grave information, the references for which would be found in Unnameable Life,[10] on the coming disaster and the factors -- ecological, economic and social -- that contribute to it, thus on what one could reasonably expect.

Serge Quadruppani deplored it in this remark:

With his handbill in situ-language intended to sell his magic powder against AIDS, Bounan harms the sick much more than official medicine. But this is a reality that will not impassion the public that, with a a sure sense of marketing,[11] he knew how to reach.

For his part, Guy Debord remarked:

The test is magnificent! As revolting in the tone as in the informational content; this culminates in the surprising manner in which one encounters the "satisfaction" of seeing oneself recognized as a "modern man." This text can, in addition, function as a memory-aid (I am unfamiliar with several figures, but they are instantaneously brought to your memory when one is not unfamiliar with the general tendency). One cannot congratulate you too much for its educational value, nor desire a wide enough distribution. . . . I would like, of course, to receive at least a dozen more tests. (...) I have begun to communicate them to the people who merit it. That is to say, I will put some time into depleting the stock that I have.

Unnameable Life, the title of which -- at two levels of reading -- exactly announced the contents, had been published shortly afterwards, in March 1993. Its subject took up again -- and generalized -- that of The Time of AIDS: the current disaster (ecological, epidemiological, social) and the "dominant ideas" concerning it are identically produced by the "logic of the commodity" and fundamental accomplices. But, in addition, the book showed that such "dominant ideas" can only be received and internalized at the price of psychic disturbance -- which the psychiatrists call alexithymia -- and the physiological and behavioral effects of which are precisely those that led to the current disaster. Alexithymia is thus the terrain on which the dominant ideas seed themselves so as to produce the evils that they claim to name. In such a movement, the function of the media obviously appears under a somewhat new light.

This time, the silence of the media -- as one must expect -- was even more impressive than with respect to The Time of AIDS.

The "irreducible" Quadruppani abandoned the popular columns of Mordicus to confide his impressions in a much more confidential publication, at which the person who fingers the writing machines is not known -- but which has an evocative title (Hotel Ouistiti) -- addressed to several people who are apparently chosen for their potential role as "resonators." His critique concerned the author himself, in whom he recognized a kind of "genius" (for marketing[12]): able to "align, in imitation-Debord style, solid evidence mixed with silliness concerning medicine," that is to say, the discourse of "any pro-situ" and that of "any guru in search of suckers." So much for the content. As for those who claim to have noticed something else in this book, one must know and make it known that it is a question of so-called "radicals among whom the arrogant certitude of piercing the appearances of the spectacle in general precedes the belief in the most dumbfounding nonsense," and of whom he provides the description: these are the "people who believed that Italian 'terrorism' was entirely manipulated by the generals of the carabiniers, that an anti-capitalist revolution was in progress in Portugal, that the Russians provoked an earthquake in Armenia and that Jean-Patrick Manchette was [in fact] Jean-Pierre Georges."[13]

At the time this report was made, the Spanish authorities had not yet been forced to pursue the chief of State for "association with malefactors and terrorism." But considerable ecological disasters had indeed already been strategically unleashed -- and confessed -- in the regions where one could fear the worst: an anti-capitalist revolution; and those who read journalistic reports have no need to be "experts" in philology to recognize a police report behind a signature.

In the same piece, the "irreducible" one reproached me bitterly for having called him a journalist. He nevertheless did not complain about having been mendaciously described as an ex-situationist by his colleagues at the Nouvel Observateur. But one knows that a contemporary journalist can indeed have another task than that of informing the public and it is thus through a slightly out-of-date usage that one continues to call them "journalists" only.

For her part, Michele Bernstein did not reiterate her blunder. She told anyone who was happy to listen about all the bad things that she thought, not only about Unnameable Life, but its author, his previous writings, and particularly The Time of AIDS, about which she finally recognized what was suitable to recognize about it: no, one cannot be deceived, it is obvious that this work is not only homophobic, but charlatanesque as well. Apparently the former situationist was not offended by having been treated like a journalist, but she contested having been vigorously scolded, following her first article, by a "member of her professional entourage," when it was in fact a question of a "friend who found himself a colleague." It was Moliere who amused Paris with his bourgeois [protagonist], about whom the stupid people claimed that he was a "fabric merchant," when in reality he "gave it to his friends in exchange for money." But one must formally acknowledge Michele Bernstein, for whom a certain social activity favored the choice of friends and a particular disposition to find them very good.

As for Guy Debord, always excessive in his indulgence according to the apologies that he had not ceased to make for this virtue, he said:

I find that your second offense with Unnameable Life is even more successful. The censors, who expect the worst, will not be disappointed. Thus, you have left the framework, already quite immense, but apparently still a little circumscribed by an (?) illness, to become the central connoisseur of the total disaster that is henceforth certifiable in the entire sphere of health. I was completely amazed by the discovery of alexithymia, which -- in the light of the knowledge that you have highlighted -- appears as the link that had until now been missing from the contemporary expose of the end of everything.

[1] Nicholson-Smith would later translate Debord's The Society of the Spectacle into English (Zone Books, 1994). For some odd reason, his translation reads more like a text by Raoul Vaneigem than by Guy Debord.

[2] We believe that this translation was so bad that it amounted to a falsification. And so we have translated it into English ourselves.

[3] It was written in English, so rather than translate Bounan's French translation back into English, we have quoted directly from the original.

[4] It was written in English, so rather than translate Bounan's French translation back into English, we have quoted directly from the original.

[5] In a letter to Jean-Francois Martos dated 24 February 1990, Guy Debord wrote:

I had read the Quadruppani. He is obviously a disinformer and perhaps of "type b." At least on the borderline? That is to say, manipulated by his dangerous associations (police-related or repenters) and also by the person who wrote the preface. Henceforth, he will be "the most Leftist" expert on questions of terrorism. And you know what an expert must always be today. He obeys (consciously or due to being maneuvered? I believe rather consciously) the same orders that Fargette has obeyed. It is a marvel, because he [Quadruppani] says that it is necessary to take me (a ridiculous bullshitter) "at my word," whom he claims to have inspired. And this also serves for a very reassuring interpretation of many (actually worrisome but modern) points in the Comments. He makes it seem that he understands, and as an unquestionable banality, that an "impenetrable building" is inevitably (as in 1860) an embassy covered by its diplomatic [legal] extraterritoriality. "Remove your mustache, we have recognized you. . . ." Ass!

In a footnote to this passage, Martos added the following:

One now knows more clearly that Serge Quadruppani was, as a defender of [Robert] Faurisson, in the first rank of the revisionist operation that begun at the end of the 1970s. A "Supplement to #3 of La Guerre Sociale" affirmed in June 1979: "The legend of the 'gas chambers' was made official by the Nuremburg Tribunal, in which the Nazis were judged by their vanquishers (...) Faurisson is attacked for having sought the truth and made it advance (...) We who are revolutionaries intend to support him in any case." It was not merely a question of a trap to compromise naive people as much as possible. The goal of the maneuver, which aimed at scrambling and leading astray any true critique of the existing world, was explicitly unveiled in the final "repentance," made by Quadruppani himself. In Libertarians and "Ultra-Leftists" Against Negationism (Editions Reflex, Paris 1996), one actually learned that it was necessary to finish off the surpassed reflexes that are "conspiracism, the conception of ideology as lie, with its illuminist cult of the truth, [and] the taste for scandal"; because these lead straight to revisionism, in which "the delirious residuum of May 68 inextricably mixed with neo-fascist phantasmagorias." The guilty party is the "innate belief in conspiracies that (...) make one see behind every event the Machiavellian maneuvers of the State or the 'Masters of the World,' a world in which everything is only spectacle and lies (a cutting remark (...) about Debord's Comments)." Because this attack was too transparent, the words within parentheses disappeared from the 1996 version of this text, which was originally published in 1992.

The loop has been looped. Also in 1996, issue #6 of The Monthly Letter of the Good Descent announced a debate: "Terrorism and the conspiracy vision of history: the example of Italy. Exposition by Serge Quadruppani: 'Guy Debord: did he exist or was he an invention of the spectacle?'" As for "the conspiracy vision of history," it was quite simply a question of denying the revelations of Debord, and then [Gianfranco] Sanguinetti, concerning the Moro Affair and the terrorism that was manipulated by the Italian State (and, beyond, as the new recipe for the modern powers), and all this despite the incontestable proofs and the dazzling confessions that have since verified them. State terrorism? Guy Debord? The deliriums of May 1968? Here is what must be effaced from the hard drive, after at first trying to efface the gas chambers!

The agents of integrated negation scramble the comprehension of the past so as to better disorient the critique of the present. They thus serve current domination, which must permanently remodel the past so as to perpetuate itself. To deny authentic critique, to discredit it, so as to liquidate it better. This was the very same Quadruppani who one found at the center of an ad hoc network that campaigned against The Time of AIDS, so as to dissuade the readers to which this book was principally addressed (cf. Incitation to Self-Defense and also The Art of Celine and His Times for denunciations of the revisionist operation; these two books, like The Time of AIDS, were written by Michel Bounan and published by Editions Allia).

[6] Nogent-sur-Seine is the location for a planned nuclear powerplant.

[7] Author's note: This text was subsequently published in 1996 under the signature of F.G. Lavacquerie in a multi-author work, Libertarians and "Ultra-Left" against Negationism.

[8] Founded by Floriana Lebovici in 1984 in response to the murder of Gerard Lebovici, who was her husband and Guy Debord's close friend, this publishing house became the property of their children upon her death in 1990.

[9] And so it was Zone Books, and not Verso, that published Donald Nicholson-Smith's translation of La Societe du Spectacle in 1994.

[10] Published by Editions Allia, 1993. We have translated one of the appendices to it, the one entitled Editorial Politics.

[11] English in original.

[12] English in original.

[13] These were ideas held by Guy Debord. So far as we know, the first two ideas were absolutely correct; we are not sure about the second two.

(New revised edition, published by Editions Allia, 2005. First edition published in 1995. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! October 2007. Footnotes by the author, except where noted.)

To Contact NOT BORED!
ISSN 1084-7340.
Snail mail: POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998